Do you remember where you were this time, ten years ago?
I do, quite clearly.
I was on holiday. Here, in the city that is now my home. Enjoying a breezy summer vacation before that all-important milestone of starting college.
I was sixteen and life felt surreal, for I had quit school a year earlier than expected and was about to start an undergraduate program in science at a prestigious university.
It was the kind of future I had spent most of my childhood fantasizing about, for I decided at age ten that I was made to be a doctor, to “help and serve others” since everyone described me as so kind and gentle.
It is only much later – after my world tipped over, turned me upside down and shook the fluff out of my adolescent brain – that I realized I wasn’t so much kind and gentle as meek and subservient, too timid to speak or stand up for myself when people walked all over me like I was a village road. (I know that’s a terrible comparison but it will have to do, sorry.)
And as for professions involving “helping and serving” others, I can think of ways in which almost every occupation fits that description. I chose writing (or writing chose me) and I know that words most definitely help (to get through stuff, to laugh or fume or find comfort or solace when needed, etc etc) and serve (people who read them, who enjoy them, whose lives changes however minutely by them).
But I didn’t end up here completely by chance. I guess the seed was always there, the hunch that I didn’t pay attention to because when you’re little and surrounded by Indian kids from enterprising, ambitious families (your own included), nobody ever says they want to be a writer or an author when they “grow up”. It’s just not what Indian kids do (or did back then). We become doctors or engineers, accountants and businesspeople, surgeons, psychiatrists, or at least dentists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, teachers, psychologists, or journalists.
Writing comes secondary, as an add-on profession, justified by your achievements in your real career. For instance, doctors write books about groundbreaking research or case studies, psychologists write the ubiquitous self-improvement books, professors and teachers write textbooks or required readings, and so on.
When you’re like me and just write because you can (don’t need a lot of money) and you want to (are willing to drive yourself crazy staring at blinking cursors), people (most notably, relatives who have nothing to do with you beyond the preordained connection by blood or family) treat you like you’re wasting your life. Like you are suffering a prolonged quarter life crisis just because you refuse to follow the path that is literally done to death by almost anyone – study, get a job, build a career, get married, pop out a baby or two, get them to study (and repeat the vicious cycle), plan for retirement, retire and then try to find comfort in material luxuries you can finally afford while growing increasingly dissatisfied as life starts to run out and you realize you never did what your heart told you to do earlier.
Why do the majority of people reduce life to this awful humdrum cycle? And why do they expect me to follow suit? Why am I an anomaly if I don’t? Why do they keep asking me what am I doing when I keep telling them – I am writing, I am trying to be a writer, it’s hard, it takes time, the learning and achievement curve is steeper and hence slower than that of other professions.
People who achieve success in creative work at ridiculously young ages are either exceptionally talented or phenomenally lucky or – most unfairly – both. But that doesn’t mean there’s no scope for the rest of us. So yeah, I’m not going to quit writing just because I don’t currently have any particularly spectacular achievement I can brag about or shove in my relatives’ faces when they ask me that damned question of what I’m “doing” these days.
It happens year after year, festival after festival when I’m obliged to meet and greet and make the most soporific small talk with a smile on my face. While some of them take the liberty to give me (crappy) ideas of what I can write about.
Because hey, don’t you know? I don’t have any ideas of my own. I don’t know what to write. That’s why I’m a writer.
- Note to one person in particular -
(Sorry for the ridiculous formatting but it demonstrates my levels of frustration.)
Here’s a thought – the next time you have a brilliant brain wave about what I could/should write about, why don’t you take it and WRITE ABOUT IT YOURSELF?
Because I have my hands (and my head) full, thank god. And even if I didn’t, you are the last person I would ask for help.
- End of Note -
Right, so now that we have that out of the way, I realize I have digressed way too much, even more than the village road I earlier mentioned. In case you didn’t get it, the village road was an allusion to myself, albeit a weird one. It can even be used as a metaphor for my career path. For village roads connect to the lesser known, the unpopular, the stuff we don’t always want to see or hear or feel or acknowledge, and that’s precisely what writing is all about too. The unsaid, much like this post has turned out to be.
So I started by remembering where I was this time, a decade prior – fresh out of high school, which I left a year earlier than planned because it offered thirteen years of education and I didn’t really need or want that final year. I was beyond relieved and more than elated to be out of there before everyone else.
The year I had in place of grade 13 became an emotional and intellectual roller coaster that brought me a lot of disappointment, pain and anger, but enough good memories to overshadow them all. It was a year I traveled –literally and metaphorically – farther out of my comfort zones than I have ever been. It was the year I got lost and found myself. It was the most difficult time and I was the unhappiest I have ever been.
But it was also the year that I started writing in earnest, which means that ultimately, all the upheaval was absolutely worth it.